Who are the true heroes in William Shakespeare’s tragic drama Othello? What is their perspective on making deep sacrifice for what they believe in? Let’s find the heroes and analyze their perspective on suffering voluntarily.
Helen Gardner in “Othello: A Tragedy of Beauty and Fortune” considers Iago’s wife Emilia to be a true hero of the play because of her fearless outlook on death itself:
Emilia’s silence while her mistress lived is fully explicable in terms of her character. She shares with her husband the generalizing trick and is well used to domestic scenes. The jealous, she knows,
are not ever jealous for the cause
But jealous for they are jealous.
If it was not the handkerchief it would be something else. Why disobey her husband and risk his fury? It would not do any good. This is what men are like. But Desdemona dead sweeps away all such generalities and all caution. At this sight, Emilia though ‘the world is a huge thing’ finds that there is a thing she will not do for it. By her heroic disregard for death she gives the only ‘proof’ there can be of Desdemona’s innocence: the testimony of faith. (145)
At the outset of the play Iago persuades the rejected suitor of Desdemona, Roderigo, to accompany him to the home of Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, in the middle of the night. Once there the two awaken the senator with loud shouts about his daughter’s elopement with Othello. In response to the noise and Iago’s vulgar descriptions of Desdemona’s involvement with the general, Brabantio arises from bed and, with Roderigo’s help, gathers a search party to go and find Desdemona. Once that Brabantio has located Othello, the general stands wit…
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…lling her. She dies an unsung heroine of the play, giving her life for what she believes in, namely the innocence of her lady and the guilt of her husband. The abrupt change in her character toward the end of the play is a pleasant surprise.
Despondent Othello, grief-stricken by remorse for the tragic mistake he has made, acts heroically, following the example of Emilia. He stabs himself and dies on the bed next to the one he has wronged.
Gardner, Helen. “Othello: A Tragedy of Beauty and Fortune.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Reprint from “The Noble Moor.” British Academy Lectures, no. 9, 1955.
Shakespeare, William. Othello. In The Electric Shakespeare. Princeton University. 1996. http://www.eiu.edu/~multilit/studyabroad/othello/othello_all.html No line nos.
The Abnormal and Unusual in Othello
The Abnormal and Unusual in Othello
In how many Shakespearean tragedies is there a noble hero will falls into an epileptic seizure – as we find in Othello? Let us consider some of the more abnormal occurrences in the drama.
In Act 4 the evil Iago works up Othello into a frenzy regarding the missing kerchief. The resultant illogical, senseless raving by the general is a prelude to an epileptic seizure or entranced state:
Lie with her? lie on her? – We say lie on her when they belie her. – Lie with her! Zounds, that’s fulsome. – Handkerchief – confessions – handkerchief! – To confess, and be hanged for his labor – first to be hanged, and then to confess! I tremble at it. [. . .] (4.1)
Cassio enters right after the general has fallen into the epileptic trance. Iago explains to him:
IAGO. My lord is fall’n into an epilepsy.
This is his second fit; he had one yesterday.
CASSIO. Rub him about the temples.
IAGO. No, forbear.
The lethargy must have his quiet course.
If not, he foams at mouth, and by and by
Breaks out to savage madness. Look, he stirs.
Do you withdraw yourself a little while.
He will recover straight. (4.1)
Epilepsy on the part of the protagonist is unusual and physically abnormal. But the more serious abnormalities in the play are psychological. Iago is generally recognized as the one character possessing and operating by abnormal psychology. But Lily B. Campbell in Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes tells of the time when the hero himself approached “madness”:
Othello himself cries:
thou hast set me on the rack.
I swear ‘t is better to be much abus’d
Than but to know a little.
And then we find him torturing himself with the thoughts of Cassio’s kisses on Desdemona’s lips, and he reiterates the property idea in his talk of being robbed.
From this time on, Othello has become the slave of passion. As he cries farewell to the tranquil mind, to content, to war and his occupation, as he demands that Iago prove his love a whore, as he threatens Iago and begs for proof at the same time, he is finally led almost to the verge of madness [. . .] . (165)
Fortunately the protagonist regains his equilibrium, and when he does kill, it is for the noble reason of cleansing the world of a “strumpet.